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What to do with empty office spaces?

5' read - published January, 4th 2024

The changing nature of office spaces asks us to think differently. It  asks us to reconsider how offices are set up and to come up with new ideas to match the way work environments are changing. Additionally, technical hurdles loom, requiring solutions for renovating existing structures, managing technical installations, and adapting surrounding infrastructure and accessibility. Amidst these challenges, building permits stand out as a primary constraint in repurposing buildings, calling for streamlined processes to navigate regulatory frameworks effectively.


This summary explores key strategies — improving existing office spaces, exploring temporary uses, repurposing buildings, and addressing technical lighting challenges — to navigate the evolving landscape of work environments effectively. 

Improving existing office spaces

The demand for teleworking has reached a plateau. As a result, the ideal frequency has increased from 1.6 days in 2019 to 2.3 today. Flexible work arrangements are a growing trend, the Paris Workplace barometer shows that 59% of employees are eager to have freedom in organizing their time, favoring 24/7 access to the workplace(1).


Revamping current office spaces involves a multifaceted approach. Embracing adaptable designs and flexible layouts allows for better utilization of space, accommodating diverse work needs. 87 Richelieu creates flexible spaces for every type of work, The office will be the heart of a work culture that is based on collaboration, sharing, and strengthening synergies. The building has been designed so that teams naturally work together. For instance, all the project development teams have been gathered on the same floor. Flexibility was added to the offices layout as well as the work organization: The building is open 24/7.


Despite advancements in digital technology and increased collaboration, remote teams are found to be less likely to make breakthrough discoveries compared to on-site counterparts(2). Arqtec, a collaborative space for architects and engineers, and Boonthavorn Ltd., a retail-related co-working space, showcase the still actual trend of shared workspaces. Initiatives like the Basque Culinary Center aim to combine science, gastronomy, entrepreneurship, and nature to promote culinary research and innovation. Additionally, it intends to enhance the connection between the public and private realms.


A study conducted at the Bandung Institute of Technology and various other institutions worldwide found that auditory comfort has the most significant influence, followed by thermal comfort and then the visual aspect(3). Booqed provides pods that meet the demand for a quiet, soundproof space, allowing individuals to create content in shared environments. Edificil Italia made their office space more personal, creating a sense of intimacy. The renovation of this space valued an office without open spaces, bringing an intimate tone to the professional atmosphere - just like in homes. Office Flow improves access to buildings.

Temporary uses
Temporary uses 

Depreciation of real estate occurs if it is not utilized optimally or if rental payments are too low. Temporary uses present an innovative way to revive underutilized office spaces. Such flexible arrangements can include pop-up workspaces, collaborative zones, event venues, or even housing catering to evolving needs of the community. Furthermore, it enables real estate developers to circumvent challenging regulatory processes.


London-based nonprofit Hypha Studios persuades commercial landlords to let artists work and exhibit for free in unoccupied offices. In return the landlords pay lower property taxes.

Empty office spaces can also be used to create visual content. With UK film location owners of unused space have the possibility to rent their property out for filming, video, and photoshoots. Socialfly converted its HQ office into a space to create influencer content. The studio contains mock bedrooms, living rooms and other modifiable setups.


Area 2 Farms transformed vacant space in a vertical farm. Its implementation can be relatively straightforward, depending on the type of plants to be grown. In office buildings, water supply is generally available on each floor, facilitating such agricultural initiatives. A vertical farm can also offer a long term solution for vacant spaces, depending on the building maintenance costs and return on investment.


Temporary housing can also be provided. For instance, in Brussels, SAAMO's movable boxes can be placed in any building with a sufficiently high ceiling, catering to those with low income. The boxes don’t require additional waterproofing, as this is provided by the office building.

Repurposing buildings

Research reveals that only 0,5 to 1,0% of existing buildings require demolition since the rest is able to stand for another 30-50 years. Nevertheless many cities are still promoting building demolition(4).


In the UK, the decisive factor favoring demolition and rebuild over refurbishment is the VAT system. New property construction allows for material reclamation and zero-rated labor costs. Contrastingly, working on existing structures incurs a hefty 20% VAT on both materials and labor(5). Nevertheless, some communities are recognizing the dual impact, both economic and environmental. For instance, Highland Park, IL, implemented a municipal demolition tax, levying fees starting at $10,000 per building or $3,000 per residential unit(6).


Despite technical complexities, acquiring building permits stands as a prominent obstacle in repurposing buildings. Buildings are often located in areas not initially designated for alternative uses, posing issues related to suitability, accessibility, and the need for adjustments to the surrounding urban infrastructure. It is therefore important to always see the building in its whole context, to steer to meaningful new uses. In general, the fewer adaptations needed, the better.


Former office spaces have the potential to accommodate various uses. Data centers can be independent or integrated into multifunctional spaces, considering factors like ceiling height, maximum supported weight of the building structure, uninterrupted power supply, and cooling systems. The Union Bank Tower's suitability for conversion to a data center lay in its strategic location, existing infrastructure, connectivity and generous space.


Housing alone can be challenging if the building has deep floor plans, but mixed-use offers flexibility. In “The Slayte” common rooms such as fitness centers, and storage are placed in the middle of the floor plan, with apartments on the outside. If all spaces in a building can receive enough daylight, a relatively easy transformation can be achieved by replicating the same floor plan on each level. The Dutch hospitality brand Zoku converted a former Amsterdam office building into a co-living and co-working.  


The SHU West Campus in Fairfield is located in a former office building. With auditoriums and laboratories in the middle of the floor plan and classrooms on the outside, the space is optimally used. The transformation of a vacant three-story office building into a state-of-the-art medical facility in Garden City by LF Driscoll follows a similar model. Patients are provided with daylight and a nice view from their rooms, while operation rooms, waiting rooms, storage, laboratories, short-stay examination rooms, and dark rooms for specific medical procedures are placed in the interior layers.

Repurpoing buildings
Lighting challenges in spacious floor plans

Optimal lighting in expansive office settings poses a unique challenge. Strategic placement of natural light sources and innovative lighting solutions, such as smart lighting systems and daylight harvesting techniques, becomes crucial. These methods not only enhance productivity but also contribute to energy efficiency, creating dynamic and inviting spaces conducive to various work activities.


In addition to incorporating bright colors in interior design and using reflective surfaces, various technical innovations can contribute to optimizing natural light in expansive spaces. 3M Window films, for example, redirect natural light deeper into buildings, while Solatube collect sunlight on the exterior of the building and transmit it into the interior on specific locations.

Lighting challenges


In essence, real estate developers are not just crafting buildings; they are sculptors of transformative ecosystems. The evolution of office spaces isn't a mere trend; it's a call to envision spaces that adapt, inspire, and redefine the very nature of these buildings and their environment. Embracing these strategies—improvement, temporary use, repurposing, and addressing lighting challenges—offers a roadmap for developers to shape not just structures, but vibrant, dynamic, future-ready communities. As you embark on this journey, consider each project as a unique canvas, awaiting the brushstrokes of innovation and foresight to create the spaces of tomorrow.

(1) Source: Ifop, Baromètre Paris Workplace, December, 2nd 2023.

(2) Source: Lin, Y., Frey, C.B. & Wu, L., Remote collaboration fuses fewer breakthrough ideas. Nature 623, 987–991, 2023.

(3) Source: Bandung Institute of Technology, Sustainable Cities and Society, December, 18th 2021.

(4) Source: ScienceDirect, Embodied GHG emissions of buildings – The hidden challenge for effective climate change mitigation, January, 15th 2020.

(5) Source: BuildIt, Should You Demolish and Rebuild?, May, 17th 2021.

(6) Source: Local Housing Solutions, Demolition taxes and condominium conversion fees, 2023.

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